Clarabel Smith ’20
For those who haven’t heard of Brittany Howard, you may already know her incredible voice from the hit songs of her former band, Alabama Shakes. The rock singer and songwriter’s wide vocal range was showcased on songs like “Hold On” and “Gimme All Your Love,” and are even more well displayed on Howard’s debut album, “Jaime.” The title of the album comes from a somber place, being the name of Howard’s sister, also a musician, who died when the two were teenagers, but the album harnesses this grief and is just as full of joyousness as it is reflection.
The quality of the album is not only in Howard’s voice, either. Songs like “History Repeats,” and “13th Century Metal,” prove Howard’s skill as a producer and composer, sometimes integrating spoken word and electronic editing and mixing on top of the classic rock instruments that made Alabama Shakes’ music so recognizable and enjoyable. I was reminded of Stevie Nicks’ solo career after Fleetwood Mac, in how this lead singer was able to make solo music that not only stands on its own, but carries the best parts of the band’s musical identity.
The album’s songs range from the irresistibly danceable, to the heartbreaking and contemplative, to those that are somehow both at once. I would certainly play “Jaime” at a party and wouldn’t be surprised to see some guests silently listening or crying into their screwdrivers, not from sadness necessarily, since the messages of the album are predominantly those of a blissful relationship (“Presence,” “Short and Sweet,” “Stay High”), of self-acceptance (“He Loves Me”), and of inspiration (“Tomorrow,” “13th Century Metal”). There is serious subject matter, however, particularly in “Goat Head” in which Howard directly addresses the impact of being a mixed-race child in the South. Howard also addresses growing up gay, celebrating her childhood crush in the quietly romantic song “Georgia.”
Howard’s lyrics are full of conversational flow – “But what’s this world without you in it?/You make me feel just like we’re some little kids”- and poetic language – “Come what may, I have you today/And I don’t want no more/I don’t want tomorrow/Its promises, oh, its ache”- within the same song, “Presence.” Likewise, the genre veers from a Sly and the Family Stone-influenced funk on “History Repeats,” to the classic soul sound of “Baby,” and so on through a seemingly endless range of musical influences. Without even listening to the lyrics, however, you could get lost in Howard’s sometimes soaring, sometimes crooning voice, and in the instrumental and rhythmic complexity of every song. For those looking for a rock, soul, funk, jazz, or folk album to listen to on repeat, I can easily recommend Brittany Howard’s “Jaime” to anyone.
Photo courtesy of americansongwriters.com